The study shows that a longer meal time did not lead to children eating more bread, cold cuts, and desserts. Making the fruits and vegetables bite-sized also made for easier consumption. (credit photo from Pexels)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Eating plenty of colorful fruit and vegetables – such as grapefruits, carrots, and sweet potatoes – could help cut your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by nearly 40 percent, a new study reveals. Researchers with the American Academy of Neurology say yellow and orange produce are rich in nutrients called flavones – which boost the brain.

A 20-year study of more than 77,000 older people discovered those who consume the most of these foods are up to 38 percent less likely to suffer from cognitive decline later on. The protection is equivalent to being three to four years younger, according to the findings.

Flavonoids are all over the produce aisle

Results show a high intake of blueberries, blackberries, and cherries has a link to a 24-percent reduction in cognitive dysfunction. Flavones are abundant in anthocyanins, healthy pigments responsible for the striking color of produce. Moreover, an apple a day, or small punnet of strawberries, cuts this risk by 20 percent. They are bursting with powerful antioxidants, known collectively as flavonoids.

“There is mounting evidence suggesting flavonoids are powerhouses when it comes to preventing your thinking skills from declining as you get older,” says lead author Dr. Walter Willett from Harvard University in a media release. “Our results are exciting because they show that making simple changes to your diet could help prevent cognitive decline.”

Oranges, lemons, pumpkins, butternuts, corn, and orange and yellow peppers also contain large amounts of the particularly potent flavones.

“The people in our study who did the best over time ate an average of at least half a serving per day of foods like orange juice, oranges, peppers, celery, grapefruits, grapefruit juice, apples and pears,” Dr. Willett says.

The study is the first to look at several types of flavonoids and identify flavones and anthocyanins as being the most beneficial to brain health. Parsley, oregano, saffron, dill, fennel, cloves, and thyme are also good sources.

“While it is possible other phytochemicals are at work here, a colorful diet rich in flavonoids—and specifically flavones and anthocyanins—seems to be a good bet for promoting long-term brain health,” Dr. Willett continues. “And it’s never too late to start, because we saw those protective relationships whether people were consuming the flavonoids in their diet 20 years ago, or if they started incorporating them more recently.”

Ordering extra fruit & vegetables only helps the brain more

The findings in Neurology add to evidence having too few antioxidants plays a role in age-related cognitive decline. The results are based on observations of 49,493 women and 27,842 men tracked for more than two decades.

Participants completed several diet surveys. The team calculated flavonoid intake by multiplying the content of each food by its frequency. The group self-reported their mental abilities twice with questions that assessed their memory. The technique captures early problems when they worsen to the point they become noticeable, but not necessarily bad enough to show up on a cognitive screening test.

Those in the highest 20 percent of flavonoid consumption ate an average of about 600 milligrams daily. The lowest fifth managed to eat roughly 150 mg a day. Researchers say those in the highest group enjoy a 20-percent drop in self-reported symptoms of cognitive decline in comparison to the lowest group. The results stayed constant after taking into account factors including age and total calorie intake.

Animal studies have also indicated that diets rich in strawberries improve functioning of the aging brain. The superfood is also said to stave off heart disease and cancer.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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